HYDERABAD: Devotion towards God in India is often marked by laborious tasks. One such ritual which symbolises sincerity and devotion to God is the annual trip to Sabarimala. Even before embarking on the trip, people discipline themselves by following certain habits, which is undertaken to demonstrate that he/she completely surrenders his/her ego at the feet of the Lord. Later, Ayyappa devotees embark on a trip to Sabarimala and many travel by foot for days and kilometres at stretch to reach the destination. One such devotee is Venkatesh Yadav, a vegetable vendor from Secunderabad, who has been undertaking the trip to Sabarimala for the last 10 years and narrates his journey on why he undertakes this tedious journey every year.
Walking 1078.4 kilometers in 36 days is an arduous task, but for Venkatesh Yadav and many others like him, it is just a cakewalk. Their driving force is nothing but the faith, devotion and above all, it is the determination to fulfill the vow. “We do fall sick and sometimes our bruise our feet badly, but we ensure we reach our destination within the scheduled time. We halt at some specific places and rest for sometime. We neither get distracted nor give up, while walking. We also take people, who are mentally prepared and also have the strong perseverance to face hardships that come on the way,” he adds. The group finishes its trip a few days before Sankranthi to ensure they don’t land up during the peak days.
“I started from Secunderabad Ganesh temple and my first halt was at Bela near Charminar. From there, I went to Sriramulu Temple near Shamshabad. In the last few years, when the temple was not open, I halted at Mallika Gardens. On the first day, it is a practice to take more halts, so that our bodies get accustomed to walking long distances. On the second day, we reached Kothur Ayyappa Swamy temple and took a break at the temple and halted at Shadnagar TTD Temple. Everyday, we transit at different temples in different towns. From Kumbidi, we walk without a break to Sabarimala, which 50 to 60 kilometres.”
Long distance journey, especially on foot, needs meticulous planning. These exceptional devotees say that they plan 15 days in advance. “Before flagging off to the temple on foot, we first go till Kumbidi in a jeep or a car and make all the possible arrangements at our transit places. We meet the temple authorities and discuss our plan. We give them the details of our journey. While a few temples give us space for free, a few temples charge us nominal amount,” he explains.
Recalling his experience of walking on NH44 which falls under the wild animals zone, he says, “Until we reach Kumbidi, we use the highway, but from there, we use the forest area to Sabarimala. There are forest officials and cops doing the rounds all the time, especially this season. We get to see huge elephants and bisons and so far, there wasn’t any attack or death by the wild.”
Talking about the expenses, Venkatesh says, it costs about Rs 12 lakh including food, a van and the transit charges at the temples for a group of about 200 people. “We have a van that travels with us. We have a cook and the groceries in the van.
They reach every halt before us and prepare food for us. The DCM van alone costs us a lakh and a half and the groceries also cost us more. We charge only Rs 1,800 from every devotee. We have a few sponsors coming forward every year,” he concluded. Regardless of the rigour and danger he faced, for Venkatesh, every trip on foot takes him closer to Nirvana.